Love affair at Aleisa: Raising organic chickens in Samoa
You might have heard the old question.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
While this question can be traced back thousands of years to the philosophers of ancient Greece. Joe Hansell and his wife Millie of Aleisa easily found their own answer to this: for them, it was the chickens. Chickens which came from New Zealand, to be precise.
“Way back, when our own children were still very young, we happened to raise day old chickens which had to be imported as layers,” he told the Sunday Samoan.
These early experiences with chicken farming served as the foundation for what the family nowadays has established on their property in Aleisa. Altogether the Hansells are now raising almost 200 chickens. A process, that first had to develop itself over a time period of nearly three years.
“Originally, it was my wife’s idea to have chickens, so that we could live in a more self-sufficient way in terms of nutrition or food. When we started, we had just a few [chickens]. What we did was to remove the one day old chicks once they were hatched.
“We hand raised them under light 24 hours a day for three weeks, feeding them starter food, to get them to a certain growth. At that point, we changed their diet again after four or five weeks. Finally, with an age of eight to twelve weeks, we released them into our big chicken fence.”
Nowadays, with more experience in raising the chickens, the Hansells slightly changed their breeding system.
“We learned that the weather too has a big contribution. The chickens wouldn’t lay eggs in January and February. If there’s too much rain or wind, it influences their breeding behaviour.
“Just last month in May, some hens have hatched, so instead of taking the chicks away, we left them together with their mother. We changed that just this week by only letting them spend the night together, and what we noticed was that the mother now refuses to take care of her chicks.
“So she must have known that it is time for them to live on their own. It is just a great experience to let the real mother take care of it and witness how this is supposed to happen by nature”.
Despite the changes in raising the chickens, their diet still consists of mainly one ingredient.
“All they get to eat in that fence, where they can run completely free, is coconut.”
With these new ways of private farming, the family soon was able to enjoy the benefits of their work. “We’ve been eating chicken almost every week and we don’t buy chickens from the shop. Not only because we no longer have to, but also because ours taste much better. Our chickens can run around freely on their own, which also impacts the taste in the end. Also, you simply know what you eat. There are no steroids or any kinds of additives in our chickens,” Millie Hansell said.
But with the new freedom for the chickens, new problems showed up soon.
“With the huge increase of the number of our chickens, we also have to keep away animals which chase after them, like stray dogs, cats and even rats.” While these dangers for the chickens could be handled to a certain point, for instance by using rat traps to keep the rodents away from the birds, Joe and Millie had to rethink their system of chicken farming once again.
“We had many roosters and we had reached a certain point at which we needed to select the birds we would need for breeding”.
Just then, a lucrative opportunity was offered to the farmers. “We gave away 25 chickens to a gathering of Medicals. A friend of ours referred to our chickens.
This happened at the right time, because we were able to cull some of our roosters, which was necessary.” Although this process was necessary for the amateur farmers to select the right birds for further breeding, the feedback they received from their first customers was an overwhelmingly positive one. “They were really grateful about the chickens we provided for them.
We had already cleaned the birds for them, so they simply had to cook the chickens,” said Millie Hansell about the first disposal of their organic chickens.
According to Joe and Millie Hansell, an extension of their chicken farm is something they are looking forward to. “Eventually, in the future, since now we have the hens that we wanted, we might be able to expand our way of farming. It has reached a certain point now that a lot of them just started to lay, so we will eventually end up selling, but for the moment, we just want to do a little bit of selected breeding. We are not in the market right now.”
Even though these future plans are not carved in stone yet, the family can be sure about their chickens feeling comfortable about the way they are treated.
“We feed them with coconut twice a day. Early in the morning and later in the evening,” Joe Hansell stated. But the chickens do not attend to dinner on their own, as Millie Hansell explained. “My husband calls them for the feeding in the evening. So once he starts walking around there, they even start following him.”
Now that their chicken farm is slightly expanding and growing, the Hansell family is also curious about the way other amateur farmers handle their breeding of chickens.
“We know that most Samoans raise chickens, and in most cases they do that for their own food and not commercially. But it would be good to know how other people raise them and maybe we could share ideas.”
For Joe and Millie Hansell, the process of sharing the knowledge about organic chicken farming in Samoa would be valuable, but if even more people would follow suit, a healthier way of eating could also be established.